Environmental Identity and Sustainable Consumption

by Sandor Czellar (presenting author)1, Leila Rahmani1, Valentina Clergue1, Christian Martin2

1: University of Lausanne, Switzerland; 2: National University of Ireland, Maynooth, Ireland


In everyday life, consumers frequently make more or less sustainable decisions related to the evaluation, purchase, use, and disposal of goods. Many of these important decisions are influenced by motivations related to one’s environmental identity (i.e., perceived connection with the natural environment). Environmental identity has been shown to relate to both self-reported and real individual behaviors in the literature. For this reason, it is in the interest of corporate and public decision-makers to develop effective means to increase the relevance of consumers’ environmental identity in various consumption decisions. How can this be achieved? Our presentation will highlight different insights that help answer this question. These insights are based on evidence from extant research and recent findings from our own research program.

We first present a conceptual model of how identity processes may impact consumer behavior. A key construct in this model is environmental identity salience. This construct relates to the likelihood that a consumer’s environmental identity will impact a specific consumption decision (i.e., the more salient the more likely).

We then present novel experimental findings that provide insights on how to make consumers’ environmental identity salient. The tools we test relate to the elicitation of recent consumer experiences, introspective questions about one’s nature connectedness, as well as short taglines in public spaces. The sustainable behaviors studied include organic produce evaluations/quantity consumed, choice of recycled products, as well as rejection of unsustainable products. Our findings indicate that environmental identity processes can be triggered in consumers through techniques that neither threaten, nor force consumers into a specific course of action. Our research stresses the importance of voluntary (vs. constrained) consumer behaviors in an effort to promote more sustainable lifestyles.